Two groups recently approached me asking about a “missions project” that they could do. It leaves me at a bit of a loss since what I am working on is long term and arduous work. Ministry and mission is always about the people and never just about the project.

People in poverty describe their situation in psychological and social terms, rather than just in terms of lacking resources. All ministry (or service) is relational and it is messy. I would add that it is also long term. Not many churches, agencies, or individuals are willing to go into the real arena of ministry. 

I have found that history tends to explain the present. If I wanted to know you and begin to understand you, I would need to hear your story, your history. The same is true in understanding poverty.

Recently I learned that there was a direct connection between federal housing and transportation policies in the in 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and the decline of the African-American community. Prior to this point, I was pretty darn ignorant about such matters.

From 1910 to 1960, there was a massive migration to the industrial cities of the north because that is where the jobs were.  Centuries of slavery and discrimination contributed to African-Americans having relatively poor education. Economic forces and housing discrimination caused them to locate in the inner city. Yet, in the mid 1950’s, the African-American communities in the nation’s cities, though over-crowded, were relatively healthy and viable.

Then three decades of federal programs changed the dynamic. Urban renewal and highway programs caused many African-American neighborhoods to be razed. Low-income people were re-located into high rise housing projects. Middle to high income people had the means to relocate in the choice suburban neighborhoods with their Caucasian counterparts.

History provides a place to begin in understanding how things got the way they are. It also allows us to see that not only people are broken, and living with the results of bad decisions, but societal systems can be unjust, ill-conceived, and cause many people to be adversely affected. 

The following quotation explained so much for me, but also I found it heart rending.

What happens when society crams historically oppressed, undereducated, unemployed, and relatively young human beings into high-rise buildings, takes away their leaders, provides them with inferior education, and employment systems, and then pays them not to work? (When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbbett and Brian Fikkert  p.92)

This post was originally published May 18, 2010.

About Glenn

Glenn Hager is a blogger, former newspaper columnist, and author of two books, An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.
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